By Adrian Harte at the Ullevi stadium
Valencia CF capped a wonderful season and bridged a 24-year gap since their last European success as they overwhelmed ten-man Olympique de Marseille in Gothenburg to add the UEFA Cup to their Primera División success.
The Spanish club thus made it third time lucky after losing in the 2000 and 2001 UEFA Champions League finals, with goals from Vicente Rodríguez and Mista sealing a well-deserved victory over a Marseille side which had French international goalkeeper Fabien Barthez sent off on the stroke of half-time.
Drogba passed fit
The team news brought relief for Marseille with Didier Drogba, this season's scoring sensation in European competition, passed fit to play after recovering from a hip injury. Valencia coach Rafael Benítez felt confident enough to omit playmaker Pablo Aimar with Miguel Angulo and free-scoring Mista paired in attack.
Drogba was in the action early, sent tumbling by a heavy Roberto Ayala challenge in the first two minutes and Carlos Marchena was forced into a last-ditch clearance from the resulting free-kick. But the match action was initially surprisingly muted, with the howling wind precluding constructive football.
Valencia sprung to life after six minutes with Mista's blocked shot followed by an excellent Barthez save from David Albelda's deflected effort. Marseille were chasing shadows for an extended period with Steve Marlet's booking on ten minutes a product of their frustration. However, the French side weathered that storm and fashioned their first real chance after 16 minutes, but Marlet's diving header from Camel Meriem's cross flew over the bar.
Minutes later Meriem should have done better when found by the increasingly menacing Drogba, but he shot harmlessly wide from the edge of the box. Marseille were now in the ascendancy and a third good chance went begging midway through the half when Habib Beye headed wide from another free-kick won by Drogba's trickery.
With Albelda and especially Rubén Baraja back on top in midfield, Valencia regained the initiative but Barthez's goal was not threatened until the fateful final 30 seconds. A Curro Torres cross evaded Beye at the far post and Mista feinted around the French goalkeeper only to be brought to the ground.
Referee Pierluigi Collina was on the spot straight away. The two most famous bald pates in world football went head to head and Barthez was sent off with a penalty awarded. After a lengthy delay Jéremy Gavanon came in to take his place with Meriem sacrificed, but the substitute goalkeeper had no chance with the penalty, which was converted by Vicente in the last act of the first half.
The break brought only brief respite for Marseille as the recently-crowned Spanish champions exploited their numerical advantage at the start of the second half. After 13 minutes of almost total possession, Valencia doubled their lead. A slick move stretched the Marseille rearguard to breaking point and after Vicente cut the ball in perfectly from the left, Mista showed the confidence of a striker at the top of his game to rifle in his fifth goal of this season's competition.
Marseille heads dropped as the enormity of their task dawned on them and their shattered morale was hardly helped by the introduction of Aimar for Rufete after 64 minutes. However, the French side threw off their shackles minutes later with Drogba the inevitable inspiration. The Ivory Coast forward stung Santiago Cañizares' fingers with a fiercely struck free-kick before coming within centimetres of playing through Marlet.
Despite being under pressure, and as long as a third goal eluded the Spanish side, Marseille retained a sliver of hope and Sylvain N'Diaye almost brought José Anigo's side back into the game after 80 minutes but his fierce shot was well saved by Cañizares.
Entertainment if not excitement ensued in the final minutes: a sublime Aimar pass, a snake-hipped Drogba turn and a crushing Marchena tackle made up one typical passage of play. But bucking recent competition history, there was to be no dramatic denouement in this decider as Benítez's gifted side comfortably secured an overdue European triumph.
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